Vitamin A As An Antioxidant
Yes, one of the Vitamin A benefits is that it acts as an antioxidant. But it’s not exactly Vitamin A that’s acting as the antioxidant… it’s the carotenes. Let me explain.
Carotenes (i.e. beta carotene, alpha carotene) are the precursor of Vitamin A and are found in plant sources (i.e. carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin).
And the human body has 2 functions for carotenes… turn it into Vitamin A or turn it into an antioxidant.
About 40% of carotenes are converted to Vitamin A while 60% functions as powerful antioxidants.
This is good for you because your body will turn carotenes to Vitamin A only if your body needs it. The rest will circulate through your blood as antioxidants. This is helpful because there are some issues with Vitamin A overdose and toxicity. No need to really worry about that with carotenes.
And there are many types of carotenes that act as great antioxidants (i.e. alpha & beta carotene, lycopene). Carotenes specifically fight off the singlet oxygen free radical.
Another important thing to consider is only carotenes, like beta carotene, have antioxidant powers. The Vitamin A that comes from animal sources do not possess the same antioxidant powers as beta carotene.
The “carotene-version” of Vitamin A acts as a powerful antioxidant and you get carotenes mostly from plant sources.
One of the other main benefits of Vitamin A is their anti-infection powers. Picture this… think of an army of soldiers. There’s the frontline, the backline and everything else in between.
Now think of your body.
The frontline is your skin & the outer parts of your various tissues and organs. The backline are the more sensitive and crucial organs (i.e. brain, heart). Vitamin A helps to make that frontline stronger with growth and repair.
How does it do this?
Without getting too scientific… the frontline I mentioned that’s your skin & outer barrier is technically called “epithelial tissue.” And this frontline/epithelial tissue is mostly made of fat. And the structure of Vitamin A causes it to be a fat-soluble vitamin that benefits these fatty tissues.
And to go a little further, the frontline/epithelial tissues include your skin, the outer layer of your eyes, mouth, nose, throat, digestive tract and urinary tract. This frontline is your body’s first line of defense against disease, infection and free radicals.
Also, Vitamin A helps to strengthen the mucous membranes of your body. And the mucous membranes are another frontline defense for your body against infection.
Vitamin A is very important for keeping your frontline barriers such as the skin, eyes, nose, throat, lungs, digestive tract & urinary tract strong. This will help you fight off and protect you against infection.
We spoke on the anti-infective benefits of Vitamin A & the antioxidant properties. Another benefits of Vitamin A may also help to boost your immune system. Vitamin A plays a role in the development of lymphocytes. These are the cells of your immune system that fight off bacteria and disease. More research is being done to support this claim but a few examples to consider:
• Treating measles and respiratory infections – especially helpful for children.
• Viral infections
• May help AIDS patients or anyone whose immune system is depressed by boosting their immune cells.
One of the BEST ways to keep your immune system strong is getting your daily dose of vitamins and minerals. The best way to do this is by eating as many antioxidant rich foods (fruits, vegetables) and by supplementing on a multi-vitamin.
Sometimes life happens and it can be difficult to get all the necessary nutrition from food alone. This is why it’s VERY beneficial to take a good quality multi-vitamin… preferably from plant sources.
I prefer to get mine from the local health food store (mostly because I’m impatient) but if I have time to order them, I get my multi-vitamin from Prograde. They have a multi-vitamin specifically for men and one for women. Click either link below to read more…
Vitamin A and Your Eyesight
The benefits of Vitamin A is good for your eyes in 3 major ways: helps prevent night blindness, prevents cataracts (like Vitamin C) and helps to preserve eyesight. Let’s go over how Vitamin A & beta carotene benefits each one…
For Night Blindness… your retinas are light-sensitive cells that have a large amount of Vitamin A stored in it. And within your retinas you have a thing called rods and cones. Rods and cones allow you to see black & white and colors, respectively. The rods are specifically used for night vision.
Without getting too scientific, rods use the combination of a special protein called opsin and a specific form of Vitamin A (called retinal) in order to function properly. Without the Vitamin A portion… the rods would not work properly and you won’t be able to see that well in dark or in dim lighting. This is especially true as you get older.
The next one is about Cataracts. Cataracts form when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy… making it very difficult to see. Cataracts used to be one of the leading causes of blindness.
But a better way to prevent this from happening (and avoiding the surgery to fix it) is having a diet rich in carotenoids… especially beta carotene.
The antioxidant power of beta carotene wipes out the free radicals before they damage the lens.
Vitamin C is also helpful in preventing cataracts. So combining these 2 will definitely help to prevent cataracts.
And lastly is helping to preserve your eyesight. As you grow older there is a thing called Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) which causes some vision loss. AMD is one of the leading causes of blindness in people older than 65. And about 31% of Americans 75 and older has it.
One study suggests that eating just one serving of a food high in Vitamin A or beta carotene can reduce the chances of AMD by almost half! A few other carotenoids (i.e. Lutein and zeaxanthin) are also helpful in preserving your eyesight as you get older.
So if you like your eyes and want to keep them healthy for a long time… it’s best to include Vitamin A and beta carotene in your diet. Getting at least 10,000 to 15,000IU per day.
Vitamin A, Cancer & Your Heart
So this may be a touchy/difficult subject to discuss… but let’s do it anyway! So far there’s strong evidence that shows that the benefits of Vitamin A and beta carotene (mostly beta carotene) can decrease your chances of certain cancers, heart disease & stroke.
Before we talk about cancer, something interesting you should know. If you’re a smoker, do not take Vitamin A or beta carotene supplements. Studies have shown that taking these supplements can actually increase your chance of getting lung cancer. Studies are still being done but stay away from Vitamin A. Taking Vitamin C is a better solution for smokers (and so is quitting smoking!!)
But other studies show a diet that includes whole food or supplemental Vitamin A and beta carotene can help prevent the chances of colorectal and prostate cancer. And may even fight off breast cancer but more studies are being done on this one.
As far as your heart is concerned… one major study involving female nurses shows the ones who got their beta carotene from foods had about 20% fewer heart attacks than those who didn’t. The nurses got their beta carotene from foods, not supplements. The verdict is still out on beta carotene supplements & heart health.
But I will say taking some form of Vitamin A and beta carotene supplement is much better than taking nothing at all.
Yes! Here are a few other lesser-known benefits of Vitamin A worth knowing.
Vitamin A helps in the creation of important proteins used throughout your body. This is important because your muscles are made from proteins and proteins also affect your genes.
Speaking of proteins, Vitamin A benefits pregnant & nursing mothers. The retinoic acid form aids in protein and growth hormone development for the developing fetus. They also help in forming the heart, eyes, limbs and ears.
Warning: Excess vitamin A during pregnancy is a big no-no. Talk to your doctor first before you decide on supplementing with Vitamin A.
They also aid in red blood cell formation and help to transport iron to your blood cells. This translates to more oxygen and oxygen is very beneficial for your body.
It also may help you in preventing Type 2 diabetes.
Now that we talked about all those benefits let’s go over how much you need per day.
How Much Vitamin A Do You Need?
To get the full benefits of Vitamin A, get at least 10,000 to 15,000IU per day. And it’s good to get both the preformed version (which comes from animal sources such as eggs, liver, poultry & dairy) and from carotenes (these come from plant sources).
This may seem like a lot but it really isn’t.
1 large egg has around 320IU of preformed Vitamin A while 1 medium carrot has about 8,000IU of beta carotene.
I definitely recommend food sources of Vitamin A… leaning more towards getting them from plant sources.
It’s one thing to explain how much Vitamin A you need and where to get them. It’s another thing to actually get them in your diet and have it taste good.